My mother became human to me inside a Macy’s department store. It was in the center of the K Street mall in downtown Sacramento. I remember that specific place because it felt like it took an eternity to walk from the place she broke down in tears, through the glass doors, and all the way to the parking lot. Finally, I drove her home.
She had witnessed her father die earlier, and shopping for a funeral outfit inside the fluorescent belly of a mall was too much.
Since then, my mother and I have become best friends. We text each other squirrel emojis in the mornings, call each other on the drive home and talk about our respective yoga classes for hours. I borrow her clothes and conveniently forget to give them back; she calls me for career advice and tags me on Instagram. I’ve told her about my sex life. She’s explained the grittiest aspects of aging to me. But it wasn’t always this way.
The most terrible things, I probably can’t even remember. Our mother daughter relationship included the same family struggles of many parents and teens. I slammed my door. I ran away. I stayed with friends for days without coming home. Perhaps our arguments weren’t anything beyond the normal challenges of home life and raising children. We were never violent, estranged or extraordinarily hateful, but we were definitely not friends. Or even friendly. Turbulent, emotional cohabitation might be the best description.
Transitioning from bitterness to best friends however, is something extraordinary. Many parents ask, how do I become friends with my child? How can I be a good parent and bond with my children?
Through many years, failures and learning experiences, I realized that the most vital element for transforming a mother/daughter relationship is honesty.
An Essential Key for a Healthy Relationship
Honesty might seem like an obvious answer. I am not only talking about honest speech, though. I am talking about honesty deeply rooted in emotional intelligence. This type of honesty feels uncomfortable and frightening at first; it obliterates the ego and erases social barriers. To transition from the innate mother/daughter bond to a true, deep friendship it takes conscious work. You have the be truthful about your flaws and vulnerable in a way that perhaps only a mother and daughter can be. Of course, there are countless ingredients for any healthy relationship and no one-size-fits-all recipe, but establishing this emotionally intelligent honesty will be revolutionary.
“It's discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit,” wrote Noël Coward’s Charles in the play Blithe Spirit. Mother and daughter links are like that. Openness is often more difficult, frightening and rare than the alternative. Pop culture pushes the adage than women fear becoming their mothers and stepmothers are ingrained in our communal western psyche as evil witches. It’s almost assumed that family relationships sweep a lot under the rug. In order to be truly honest with your mother/daughter, you not only have to break through these social preconceptions but also your own self-perceptions...and deceptions.
"Honesty was the gateway into friendship with my mother and I."
Mothers and daughters have a uniquely close bond, biologically and often emotionally, making the relationship uniquely sensitive. For years I tried to cover a deadly eating disorder from my mother, partially to save her from the pain of what
I was experiencing and partially out of shame for what I was doing to myself. For years she hid any financial struggles or personal doubts from me, and understandably so, since mothers naturally try to protect their children from unnecessary pain.
The day my mother dissolved into tears in Macy’s was the first time I remember her living honestly in human pain in front of me. That was just one tiny moment in the development of our shared honesty, but it was the beginning for me because it opened my eyes to the full range of humanity that my mother, like everyone, lives. When I was finally honest about my eating disorder, it meant my mother moving to college with me for a family-based eating disorder treatment. It meant revealing my most embarrassing habits and removing the perma-mask I’d been hiding behind. These were our respective breaking points from my perspective, the times when we passed through some invisible barrier and allowed our honest selves to be seen.
Mother/daughter honesty is a wonderful reciprocal loop once you establish it. When you allow your true self to be seen, you get to be seen as your true self. Now my mother understands that when I am triggered, I don’t need her to fix anything, I just need her to be with me and accept me as I am—flawed. Now my mother can call me to worry about work or vent about stress because she doesn’t have to keep up the hard shell of being a perfect, impossibly strong parent.
The point is not to force a breakthrough or breakdown. Instead, the moments
I described are the biggest examples of our honesty. Honesty will look different to every mother and daughter.
Honesty is a life-changing practice sustained through everyday moments.
It might seem like my mother and I exploded into honesty with death, tears and life-changing confessions, but some of my most valued honest moments with her are the small ones we get to experience now. We belly laugh until our faces spasm and say the uncouth things that pop into our heads without fearing judgement. But we can only enjoy these moments because we’ve ripped off the band-aid and allowed ourselves to be vulnerable, open and raw.
My mother and I are human together. That might seem obvious, but I believe it is rare and that it’s the biggest gift any two people can give one another. We hold each other together and allow each other to be broken. We are imperfect and human with one another; we are equals and better halves. She held me in dark times I don’t even remember, and I walked her out of the K Street mall Macy’s.
To find out about parenting teens effectively, check out Heartmanity's parenting programs. To learn more about our "Hacking the Teen Brain" class or how to shift strife in your family dynamics and build loving and honest relationships, contact us today..